Here’s a guide to help you sort through how to safely follow a GF diet. It’s daunting at first, but can become second nature quite soon.
Where does gluten hide?
Gluten can be sneaky. Food ingredients such as modified food starches, various seasonings and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins (cereals or legumes that are broken down by acids or enzymes and used to enhance flavor) may contain gluten. So label reading is important.
The FDA requires that foods that carry a gluten-free claim contain no more than 20 parts per million of gluten. That’s the lowest level that can be consistently detected in foods using scientific analytical tools, and consistent with the standard of many other countries. The FDA also says that to use a gluten-free claim, ingredients cannot include wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains.
The range of foods to be wary of is vast. They include hot dogs, frozen burgers (meat, chicken and fish), seasoned or dry roasted nuts, cheese spreads, soups, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, pickles, baking powder, canned cake frosting, chocolate bars and regular beer, ale and lager.
And even though a heightened awareness of celiac disease and the growing popularity of GF diets have led some manufacturers to offer more gluten-free products, be sure to check ingredients on labels every time you shop – they can change without warning.
For our list, see Where Gluten Hides
Here is the good news: all fruits and vegetables are gluten-free, period. Eat them with abandon. The range is amazing: think apples, melons, pears, plums, grapes, tomatoes, oranges, berries, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and artichokes, which happen to have lots of fiber.
For gluten-free grains, search out rice (whole-grain, not processed), corn, quinoa, teff, sorghum, millet and amaranth, which was once a staple food of the Aztecs and is high in iron and lysine, an essential amino acid.
Where’s the fiber?
Rice may be nice but many people with celiac disease find their diets do not contain enough fiber. That is why you must favor whole rather than processed grains and eats nuts, seeds and legumes, from peanuts that aren’t dry roasted to lentils, Lima beans and beyond.
For breakfast, arguably the most important meal of the day, try fruit smoothies with milk or yogurt and a bit of flax, cold cereals such as puffed amaranth, corn or rice or hot cereals made from cornmeal, corn or millet, cream of buckwheat, cream of rice or quinoa. Or buy ready-made gluten-free products like toaster waffles, bagels and granola.
Ironing Out the Kinks
If you have celiac disease, you may also suffer from anemia and bone loss because the intestinal villi have problems absorbing iron and calcium. While a strict gluten-free diet should alleviate the situation, make sure to consume at least four servings of low-fat milk products a day and lots of iron-rich foods, including meat, poultry, fish, seafood and legumes.
Consult with your doctor or dietitian about whether or not to take calcium and vitamin D supplements. Also, when buying manufactured foods, check the ingredient list to see if they have been enriched with added vitamins and minerals.
Mmm, Home Baking
The scent of fresh-baked goods may make your mouth water but no matter how good they smell, it helps if the finished product isn’t dry, crumbly and tasteless. That’s a challenge when it comes to baking with alternatives to wheat flour because they don’t contain gluten, the very ingredient that gives baked goods structure and depth.
Baking sans gluten is at once an art and a science, but experts recommend first combining gluten-free flours and/or starch and then mixing in a binding carbohydrate called xanthan gum, available in health food stores and some supermarkets. The result of fermenting glucose, xanthan gum is best added to dry ingredients. The general rule is to use one teaspoon for every cup of gluten-free flour when making bread and half to three quarters of a teaspoon for other baked goods.
Look for Pure Oats
Once, oats were included on the list of forbidden foods for people with celiac disease because they were thought to trigger the same toxic reaction as wheat, barley and rye. The problem was that the only oats available were grown, processed and transported alongside wheat, barley and rye. Oats were being contaminated with gluten.
No longer. New studies show that pure, uncontaminated oats consumed in moderate quantities are just fine for most adults and children with celiac disease, though not all.
The key words here are “pure,” “uncontaminated” and “moderate” consumption. Buy only “pure” oats from specialty companies that take many precautions to ensure their oats are not cross-contaminated with gluten grains.
The professional advisory board of the Canadian Celiac Association recommends that adults with celiac disease eat no more than 3/4 cup of dry rolled oats a day while children have up to a ¼ cup a day.